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Window box | spring cleaning

May 14, 2012

Part nine of my Guardian series about window boxes

The tops of double-decker buses have their pros and cons.  While much polluted with bad music and inane chitchat, they’re also brilliant moving rooms with views.  A few days ago, from the lofty heights of the number 91 en-route to Waterloo, I spotted a temporary garden centre had bloomed behind a billboard on Caledonian Road.  For locals, its arrival is an annual sign that spring has sprung.

I started the window box project in autumn and focussed on hardy plants that would be attractive over winter.  I mixed delicate white cyclamens with hebe and carex grass in one trough, and planted an array of winter salad leaves like land cress and mizuna in another.  It all looked lovely for a good while.

But I confess the carex is currently half dead and the cyclamens decidedly unwell.  The salads that weren’t eaten have grown legs and gone to seed.  After a winter thinking about medicinal plants, food growing, urban wildlife and permaculture, it’s time for an overhaul using my new knowledge.

On foot and with a plant wish list in my pocket, I head to the billboard garden centre.  It’s busy with people picking through shelves of plants, and run by a group of grizzled, talkative old men who identify me as a newcomer straight away.  The prices are pretty good. I get six plants for £9 and chastised for paying by card.

The longer window box that hangs from my balcony edge still hosts handsome hebe albicans but has now been joined by Roman chamomile, chosen for its spiky foliage, fried egg flowers and medicinal properties; lemon variegated thyme picked for its colourful leaves and woody citrus scent; and some blousy white violas for instant spring colour.

The smaller bathroom box continues to be home to a garlic plant grown from a clove planted at Christmas, and is joined by nasturtium, bergamot, pot marigold, chives and black peppermint – a motley collection of herbs all chosen for their edible flowers and leaves.

The black peppermint has burgundy stems and foliage veined deep red, while citrus smelling bergamot promises whorls of pink flowers as well as a nice cup of tea.  The marigolds are grown from seeds saved from my aunt’s garden – you can eat the peppery leaves and use the bright petals as both a garnish and a food dye.

The hanging picnic basket remains happy with its pungent purple sage, trailing ivy, red mustard and fragrant coronilla ‘citrina’, and is joined this spring by a tiny wild strawberry that’s been relocated from a friend’s windowsill in Camden.

Other ideas for spring window box colour include lobelia, pelargonium, petunia, diascia and primula.  Or perhaps you could opt for hanging fruit baskets of tumbling tomatoes. If you’re still trying to work out where to squeeze in a container – if you lack window ledges or permission to drill – you could consider investing in some kind of bridge planter that hangs over railings and doesn’t need screws.

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